Stories that inhabit gray areas attract Mira T. Lee

Liz Linder Photography

Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, “Everything Here Is Beautiful,” has landed on some of the most-anticipated books for 2018 lists. The Cambridge resident tells the story of two sisters, one who is mentally ill and the other who is her protector. She reads from her book at 7 p.m. Fri., Jan. 19, at the Harvard Book Store and 7 p.m. Wed., Feb. 7, at Porter Square Books.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

LEE: I just finished “My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward” by Mark Lukach, a memoir about his wife going through psychosis. It’s really well done. I try to keep up with books on mental illness, especially severe ones like schizophrenia because the subject matter is deeply personal to me, and because there are so few portrayals of these illnesses in literature — though perhaps that is slowly changing. I also recently finished “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones, which comes out in February. I like stories with that kind of grayness, where no one can win. I just started “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green and “Home Fire” by Kamila Shamsie. I’m often in the middle of two books. It’s probably not a great habit.


BOOKS: Which books that touch on mental illness would you recommend?

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LEE: My favorite fiction is “You Are Not a Stranger Here” by Adam Haslett, a collection of short stories. His novel, “Imagine Me Gone,” is also great. His writing is not fussy, but so right on. Last year Ron Power came out with “No One Cares About Crazy People,” which is part memoir and part history of this country’s mental health system. It tackles a difficult subject but including his story made it easier to read. Then Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir “An Unquiet Mind” is a classic.

BOOKS: Are you a fast reader?

LEE: I’m very erratic with my reading. This fall I left my husband and kids behind and went to Vermont for a couple of days to write. It had been taking me so long to get through books. Up there I read one a night. I would sit there for six or seven hours and read. I was like, “Wow, I can do this.” My head just has to be in the right place.

BOOKS: What was the highlight of that spree?


LEE: I read Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give.” I read a bunch of YA books, which I thought were great, including Nicola Yoon’s “Everything, Everything” and John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” I went to the bookstore and said, “Give me your best YA books.’’ I just plowed through them.

BOOKS: How did you get started on YA?

LEE: I read R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” because everyone was going on about it. I thought it was as close to perfect as a book could come. It made me think I should check out more YA.

BOOKS: Who are your favorites among the literary greats?

LEE: I love Faulkner’s “Light in August.” I love Milan Kundera. I read “The Unbearable of Lightness of Being.” Then I read everything he wrote, including his short story collection, “Laughable Loves.” I took a Russian lit class in college that I liked. I like the simplicity of language in translation. I loved Italo Calvino’s short story collection “Difficult Loves.”


BOOKS: Is there a book you recommend a lot?

‘I like stories with that kind of grayness, where no one can win.’

LEE: My favorite book this year is “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid. I loved the language and the little bit of magical realism. I feel like when people ask [for a recommendation] they want something recent. In the past I recommended “The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan. I was awed by the sheer ambition.

BOOKS: Is there a book you were surprised to like?

LEE: Yes, “Eleven Hours” by Pamela Erens. A writer friend of mine told me to check it out. It’s not something I would have picked up, but it really blew me away. The story was so well woven together.

BOOKS: What are you reading next?

LEE: The new George Saunders and Elizabeth Strout. I have Shanthi Sekaran’s “Lucky Boy” and Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko.” I’m interested in Chloe Benjamin’s “The Immortalists.’’ I haven’t read the new Jesmyn Ward. There’s just an endless amount of books.


Interview was edited and condensed. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio.